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Landmark polling from Lord Ashcroft reveals massive gap between governed and governing on crime

Tim Montgomerie

The Sunday Telegraph has just published a landmark survey on the British public's attitude to crime. The poll from Lord Ashcroft confirms a massive gap between the governed and the governing. All of the three main parties want to cut prison numbers and they emphasise rehabilitation. The public - across all income, geographical and age groups - wants tougher sentences and feels that the Coalition has fallen well short of fulfilling their hopes on crime.

Michael Ashcroft (who is also the majority owner of this website) surveyed more than 2,000 members of the public plus an additional 1,000 victims of crime and 500 serving police officers.

Cameron don't go to jail

These are the main findings:
  • The public don't have confidence in crime statistics: Only 2% agree with the British Crime Survey's statistic that crime fell by 43% over the last thirteen years. 76% think it rose or stayed about the same. Only 32% of police officers think crime has fallen. 35% think it has stayed the same. 29% think it's higher.
  • Three times as many voters think tougher sentences rather than more police officers should be the top crime-fighting priority: Exasperated by offenders being caught, caution and reoffending in endless cycles 40% of the public say "making punishments harsher to deter reoffending" would have the single biggest impact on crime. 21% identify repeal of the Human Rights Act and only 13% would prioritise more police officers.
  • Punishment is seen as main purpose of prison: Asked to say whether punishment, containment (getting offenders off the street), reform or deterrence was the most important function of prison, 47% chose punishment, 24% containment, 15% rehabilitation and 14% deterrence.
  • Twenty-five time as many people think sentences are too lenient as think they are too harsh: 80% of police officers, 81% of the general public, and 82% of victims of crime say sentencing is “too lenient”. 3% of the general public, 2% of victims of crime and 0% of police officers say sentencing is “too harsh”.
  • The public want tougher, longer sentences: Only 42% of the public agrees that prison works but their solution is the opposite of that chosen by all three political parties. 69% say prison doesn't work because sentences are too short and prison is too easy. Only 31% think prison doesn't focus enough on rehabilitation (which is the government's focus*).
  • The public has no confidence in community sentences: 90% of police officers say offenders see them as a “soft punishment”. 86% say offenders “often commit further crimes” while serving them. 75% say they are “often given to offenders who ought to go to prison”.
  • The public feel let down by the Coalition on crime: A clear majority - 57% - expected the Cameron and Clegg to be tougher on crime than the last Labour government but just 13% think that it has been tougher on crime. Although the Tories are more trusted on crime and anti-social behaviour than Labour (by 24% to 17%) the finding finds that 47% of the public think no party has the right policies on crime.

ASHCROFT Michael In an introduction to his report Lord Ashcroft notes how all of Britain's mainstream politicians have moved away from the public and have done so without democratic debate:

"For fifteen years there was a consensus at the top of British politics that prison works. Instituted by Michael Howard, it was followed by successive Labour Home Secretaries as Tony Blair recognised that a firm approach to crime was not a preoccupation of the Tory right but the very essence of the centre ground. Being tough on crime was a policy for the many, not the few. Since the 2010 election, that consensus has been abruptly abandoned. According to the Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke, prison has too often “proved a costly and ineffectual approach that fails to turn criminals into law- abiding citizens”. Ed Miliband and Sadiq Khan have signalled that Labour largely concur (though with inevitable quibbles over funding). And the Liberal Democrats never claimed to be tough on crime in the first place. The upshot is that no major party now appears to represent the approach to law and order that voters want. With no debate, and with no reference to the public, a consensus that reflected popular opinion has been discarded. This can only fuel people’s cynicism about politicians and the political process."

> Go to for full poll findings (if not posted immediately they will be uploaded shortly to that website).


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